ALBUM REVIEW: Tracksuit Lyfestile – “E=MC Hammered”

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When I covered the finals of this year’s Battle Royale at Birdy’s, I was impressed to see that the much-vaunted Tracksuit Lyfestile lived up to all the musical hype. “An instrumental combo featuring trombone distorted through a varied set of live FX pedals, the band brought a hard rock edge to what is still a highly experimental sound,” I wrote at the time in NUVO. Combining tight metal guitar riffs with adventurous experiments in instrumental looping built upon, among other things, live trombone, makes a Tracksuit Lyfestile show something to behold.

The same holds true when listening to the band’s debut E=MC Hammered, though listeners should certainly knock their expectations up a notch as the level of musicianship is impeccable. Headphone listening at its best, Tracksuit Lyfestile encourages you to rock the fuck out at a live show, and then sit back and pick the music down to its bare elements at home, reveling in how they build these acid soundscapes.

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Tracksuit Lyfestile live at Birdy’s during the Battle Royale Finals (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

 

From the opening build of “Hurricane” the music grabs your attention, and then the band holds it through the little things; the “Hey! Hey! Hey!” choruses of “90/10,” the thundering wall-of-sound that is “Lunar Lounge,” and the crowd-pleasing “Beat It” cover being stand-outs. By the time they place us back gently on the ground with the staccato crunch and intricately melodic “A Vigorous Joe Pesci,” a return visit is a foregone conclusion. Just as soon as one can get online to find the band’s ‘Band In Town’ page, that is, because once you’re hooked you’ll want to see them live just to know for sure it isn’t just a bunch of studio trickery.

I assure you, it isn’t. Tracksuit Lyfestile is the most original band I’ve heard come out of the Indianpolis scene since I’ve moved here — call them the Cake of Naptown; they’ll inspire many, but few will be able to outright copy them. And that’s a very good thing!

The band will release the brand new album E=MC Hammered at the Melody Inn on july 15th with support from Moxxie, Coup d’Etat and Midwest State of Mind! Not many better spots to catch a live band in any city …. and for only $5!

Shane Owens proves “Country Never Goes Out Of Style,” gets Randy Travis’ nod of approval

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I hear a lot of country music these days, but it only rarely takes me back to the country I grew up on — the Randy Travis, Keith Whitley, John Anderson school of neo-traditionalist twang that dominated before Garth Brooks ushered in the era of pop/rock country. I can tell you, though, I’m keeping both ears out for new information on Shane Owens, a songwriter whose latest single “Country Never Goes Out Of Style” has earned the legendary Travis’ seal of approval. His appearance in Owens’ video for the song is his first in a music video since his stroke in 2013.

“Shane brings it all…vocal, writing, performance, and passion,” Travis said in a recent press release. “He has paid his dues, remained committed to traditional country and brings you a song with a heart and a story.”

Owens spent more than a decade on the fringes of the country universe, indeed paying his dues while playing country nightclubs throughout the south, before back-to-back record deals fell through due to labels folding. The sense is he had the chance to season these songs through those hard times on the road and by tasting failure in Music City, so the resulting album Where I’m Comin’ From — produced by another country legend, former ACM Producer of the Year James Stroud — bears all the earmarks of a potential winner.

“This new song means so much to me,” explains Owens. “It really talks about the way I was raised and the way I live my life today, so it means so much to have Randy join me in the video and talk about my music in that way. It was truly an honor.”

You can see the video below:

THE BEST KIND OF COMPLICATED: James McMurtry’s latest, Complicated Game, a worthy listen

We grew up hard and our children don’t know what that means
We turned into our parents before we were out of our teens
Through a series of Chevy’s and Fords
And the occasional spin ’round the floor at the Copper Canteen

Nobody paints a lyrical picture of modern American life better than James McMurtry, who has the balls to open his first album in six years with the positively brilliant lyric “Honey, don’t you be yelling at me when I’m cleaning my gun; I’ll wash the blood off the tailgate when deer season’s done.” This is the man who wrote the searingly honest “We Can’t Make It Here Anymore” about the “WalMart”ification of American life, as well as the beautiful “Ruby and Carlos” off Just Us Kids, the perfect love song about the honest love most people experience rather than the Hallmark-style tripe we’re frequently force-fed.

According to a great interview in Rolling Stone Country, McMurty still takes his work seriously enough that he regrets how most fans misinterpreted his song “Cheney’s Toy”:

“People thought that I was saying that the soldiers were Cheney’s toys — I was saying Bush was Cheney’s toy. There were clues like Cheney saying, ‘You’re the man,’ to Bush to pump up his ego, so he’d go out and sell his politics, which I read in the New York Times. Not everybody reads the New York Times it turns out.”

Willing to admit that he erred in making such a polarizing song anchor the album as a single, he’s chosen to focus Complicated Game, his latest album, on songs tied to real people living real lives. And he’s taken on vocal coaching, apparently, which has given his road-weary vocals even more power.

I’m still digging into the album, but so far I hear no reason to suspect McMurtry’s voice is anywhere near wearing out, nor that his lyrics risk losing relevance. Check out “How’m I Gonna Find You Now” below — his latest single echoes back to the frantic vocal percussion of the fan-favorite “Chocktaw Bingo” in its lyrical Molotov cocktail of American experience.

Three decades into a career with no limits, McMurtry’s proving yet again that he’s the best kind of complicated. And Complicated Game is well worth making an appointment to play.

THE LIVE WIRE: Against The Clocks – “Top Floor”

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Rockville, Ind.’s Against The Clocks perform during Birdy’s Battle Royale. They won, advancing to perform again in April. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

When you come from a small town, sometimes half the battle is explaining to fans where your band got its start without having to resort to pulling out the Google Maps app. Against The Clocks, based in tiny Rockville, Indiana, will dispose of that problem when their new album, 47872, comes out hopefully this March. With any luck the album will put them and the town squarely on the musical map, because what this band offers is an ear-catching blend of classic rock and modern pop, heavy on the keyboards and the hooks you won’t find anywhere else.

With two keyboard players sharing vocal duties, the band really hits the ground running, merging the big melodies of Journey with the rock aesthetic of the Allman Brothers, adding the hooks and production smarts of a guy like Ryan Tedder. Everything comes out in the mix to create juicy pop music you’ll want to have on repeat all summer.

The band performed their song “Top Floor” at Birdy’s Battle Royale in Indianapolis this past Friday, winning their competitive round and advancing to perform again this coming April. You’ll want to be there when they do, but you can enjoy the video below. This is the only place to hear the entire song until the band releases 47872 later this spring!

ARTISTS TO WATCH: The Venom Cure

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Indianapolis’ The Venom Cure perform at Birdy’s Live during week three of 2015’s Battle Royale. (Credit: Jonathan Sanders)

Though we may have to wait a few weeks to know whether they’ll sneak into the next round of Birdy’s Battle Royale, due to an incredibly close score during the overall voting, there’s nothing keeping you from backing the Venom Cure, clearly a band to watch in the region. Hailing from Indianapolis, this band blends the best of 80’s glam-tinged stadium rock with the deft arrangements of symphonic metal to create a show you’ll want to see more than once. The band has been working the local scene since 2009, drawing comparisons to bands as disparate as Bon Jovi and Queensryche.

Though they had to adjust their performance on the fly due to tech elements not working within the venue’s audio parameters, the band responded admirably. Lead vocalist Steve Nicolas was the quintessential frontman, working the crowd like a pro while the entire band stepped up to the challenge by giving the strongest overall performance of the night, the close crowd vote nonwithstanding. And drummer Jimmy Whetstone’s perfectionist performance ethic was evident in an individual performance which was particularly fun to watch.

I’m told they’ll have another local gig at the Emerson Theater in March — as soon as I have more information I’ll post it here, hopefully along with an interview. Until then, enjoy videos of “Flood” and “Orphan Song” from their Birdy’s performance, both of which can be found on the band’s EP On The Other Side Pt 1. Here’s hoping they make it through to that Wild-Card Round in April!

THE VENOM CURE – “Flood”

THE VENOM CURE – “Orphan Song”

ARTISTS TO WATCH: JEFF The Brotherhood

Nashville rockers JEFF The Brotherhood are ready at last to release their follow-up to 2012’s Hypnotic Nights! Whether the three-year wait was worth it remains to be heard, since as of yet the only new track I’ve heard is “What’s A Creep” (posted below). But the new album Wasted On The Dream was co-produced by Jake and Jamin Orrall with Joe Chiccarelli, who has produced many of my favorite records including the Raconteurs’ Consolers of the Lonely and the White Stripes’ Icky Thump, as well as several classic albums from seminal Mexican garage band Cafe Tacuba. So I have high confidence that this album is going to have more than enough raw rock to get people excited about the state of 2015’s new music. As the band states in a recent press release:

Wasted on the Dream is the first JEFF The Brotherhood album to showcase the band’s recent evolution into a full-blown ROCK outfit: Jake plays six-string guitar (as opposed to his custom-made signature 3-string model), Jamin plays a full kit and Jack Lawrence (of Dead Weather and Raconteurs fame) plays bass on the entire album. The album also features guest contributions from Bethany Cosentino of Best Coast, Diarrhea Planet guitarists Evan Bird and Emmett Miller, and a flute solo by Ian Anderson of Jethro Tull. To accommodate their bigger sound live, JEFF has expanded to a highly voluminous, balls-out twin guitar monster of a quartet.

The album drops March 10th, and will include the following tracks:

  1. Voyage Into Dream
  2. Black Cherry Pie
  3. Cosmic Visions
  4. Mystified Minds
  5. Melting Place
  6. In My Dreams
  7. In My Mouth
  8. Karaoke, TN
  9. Coat Check Girl
  10. What’s A Creep
  11. Prairie Song

FEATURED SONG: She Keeps Bees – “Radiance”

Brooklyn-based duo She Keeps Bees knows how to build a song through quiet swells and subtly-menacing grooves. Their latest, “Radiance,” heralds the coming of Eight Houses, due out September 16th, via a carefully layered track built on melancholy chords of piano against mild percussive rhythms and the sultry-sweet vocals of Jessica Larrabee. Four albums into their career, they’ve yet to rise beyond “best band you haven’t heard,” but the material here suggests they deserve a great deal more.

Give the track a listen via the streaming link above, and feel free to sound off in the comments. Their tour dates are below as well.

UPCOMING SHOWS:
8/29 – Seattle, WA @ El Corazon

8/30 – Portland, OR @ Hawthorne Theatre Lounge

9/3 – San Francisco, CA @ Brick & Mortar Music Hall

9/6 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Satellite

9/7 – San Diego, CA @ Soda Bar

9/8 – Phoenix, AZ @ The Rhythm Room

9/10 – Las Vegas, NV @ Beauty Bar

9/11 – Salt Lake City, UT @ Kilby Court

9/12 – Denver, CO @ Marquis Theater

9/13 – Kansas City, MO @ Czar bar

9/14 – Lincoln, NE @ Duffy’s Taver

9/15 – Des Moines, IA @ Vaudeville Mews

9/16 – Milwaukee, WI @ Club Garibaldi

9/17 – Detroit, MI @ PJ’s Lager House

9/19 – Cleveland, OH @ Beachland Tavern

9/20 – Athens, OH @ The Union

9/25 – Cambridge, MA @ Middle East Upstairs

9/26 – Philadelphia, PA @ Kung Fu Necktie

9/27 – Washington, DC @ The Lot (Atlantic Plumbing)

11/12 – Bristol, ENG @ The Lantern

11/13 – Manchester, ENG @ Gullivers

11/15 – London, ENG @ The Lexington